On- going Projects and Successes
Still raining and muddy, but things generally are starting to improve.
There are about 100 people working in the recycling factory, which is hard dirty work, but they are doing well all things considered. They earn 120 Baht, or roughly $4 US, per day, paid at the end of the month. Monthly pay packets are a novelty here, and making the money last for thirty days can be a challenge for many of our community members. Most started working at the beginning of the month and won’t get paid for a month, so we are running the shop on a credit basis for a while. It is difficult for Danna, her sister and their mother, the shopkeepers, to collect the money when the wages are handed out, but thankfully the shop is close to the factory. We are using the shop as a center for distributing at least one hot meal per day, and we can do this at the end of the factory shift. Everyone in the community who wants a hot meal is welcome. Individuals who can afford to pay for it do so, and all children and people in need receive food for free. The proximity of the shop and the promise of hot food have worked well to encourage timely settling of debts. Danna and her mother are now able to go for almost 2 weeks without a subsidy from us—a vast improvement over the everyday subsidy in the recent past. This is due in part to the fact that the people who work at the shop are learning how to collect money, how to go shopping and how to keep inventory.
We started a delousing program last Saturday. I arrived in the morning and showed Danna how to put the delousing cream in the children’s hair. She helped me put the cream in the hair of twelve children. We supplied each child with a comb and shampoo, as the cream must be washed out of the hair after 10 hours. This is a rather inexpensive treatment (35 Baht, or roughly $1.20 US, per child) and will be needed regularly. We expect more children this week, and I hope to train some of the family members in how to do it.
We were fortunate to meet a small group from Bangkok whose goals towards community development are similar to ours. They are a group of professionals, mostly from Canada, the US, and France, who are living in Bangkok and believe that one person can make a difference. They raise funds to help projects they believe are sound. They have helped us out by donating a couple of months’ worth of rice and oil. This will go to the shop and helps to take pressure off of our finances. They also brought a large amount of badly-needed clothing, including kids’ underwear, long sleeve t-shirts, and baby clothes. The long sleeve shirts are great for the work in the factories. This group has some prior engagements and will be out of touch for a while, but we’ll let you know when we hear from them again.
Most people now have roofing materials that are sufficient and the houses are mostly dry during the rains. We are happy to report that this is under control at the moment.
Water, both potable and non-, continues to be a challenge. Regarding potable water, it is still a bit of a financial burden. We now have locks on the water tanks. Each tank has one person in charge and they unlock it from 5-7pm. They are instructed to open the tanks whenever someone needs water. I don’t feel very good about putting locks on the tanks, as most people use the water appropriately. But unfortunately, there are just a few people who don’t seem to grasp the importance and the limits of the resource. The shopkeeper, Danna, requested a lock for the tap by the shop, and as much as we don’t like to lock up fresh water, she is correct. We will continue to work on educating community members, and I look forward to removing the locks as soon as possible.
The non-potable (i.e. washing) water in the area comes from the 2 lakes situated near to the houses. The lakes are recipients of the run-off from the garbage. As the lakes are relatively small and the water is standing, the increasing concentration of the pollutants in the water has begun to affect the community members. Recently, 30-40 children and adults have experienced an outbreak of skin diseases. To address this issue, I will negotiate with the nearby factory that has non-potable water pipes in the area. I would like to put in faucets so community members have an option of using the less-toxic water for washing and limit or eliminate their exposure to the lakes altogether.
The truck is taking a beating. The front end needs to be rebuilt several times per year. The tires were recently damaged by use and were replaced. Overall, though, the issues surrounding the vehicle are under control; I am taking care of the maintenance costs from my personal funds. I still carry too many people at times but this is unlikely to change.
With the rainy season we see an increase in cases of diarrhea, especially amongst the children. Thankfully, the medicine is not too expensive per dose. However, the constant expense and the need for antifungal ointments, diarrhea treatments, cough medicine, bandages, etc. for 350 people adds up quickly.
The elderly are getting older, and need more special care including food and vitamins. I check in with them regularly and make sure they have what they need.
We will be doing a deworming treatment in the next few weeks.
Mae Tao Clinic, which is a lifeline for all of us, is losing a lot of funding, and more importantly, it has reduced many of the programs needed by the community members. The need to improve the public health and welfare is becoming a bigger issue. My thoughts are of a community clinic that would provide basic health services to the surrounding area, including but not limited to the garbage dump community we are currently working with. If we choose to pursue this, we would need to look into finding and maintaining the medical expertise necessary in addition to the physical structures and ongoing expenses of a clinic.
I recently became acquainted with a small school here that is teaching media, video, journalism, etc. to grade 12 graduates. They have offered to help us put together a short video of the work we do here. We will meet next week to go over details. The film could be used in combination with a PowerPoint show. Assuming all goes well, I hope to be using it for presentations in the US and elsewhere. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.
The community at the dump has greatly increased in terms of health, welfare, and standard of living. Unfortunately, there is still much to do; when people come out with me, I still see the look of horror on their faces. Thankfully, it looks like it may be possible to get ID cards for the community members that will allow them to stay inside the dump. While this isn’t a long term solution, Thai authorities are definitely taking a step in the right direction.
Although some days are depressing – people are soaking wet, as am I – it is clear that we have been successful in so many ways. The changes are amazing. I face the daily challenges within this community knowing that we are learning how to work together and create solutions. It is essential that Eyes to Burma is always there when we say we will be: that is how we have created a strong bond of trust.